JENNINGS COUNTY, Ind. (WANE) – In the middle of the night, 35-year-old Sandra I. Ray rolled onto her back and brought her knees up to her chest.
Her breathing became more shallow and labored as the minutes went by. One leg dropped toward the floor, then her arm did the same thing. Her throat moved and her mouth was open, but it appeared breathing had become difficult until 3:41 a.m. on May 26, according to report from an Indiana State Police detective.
That’s when Ray took her last breath inside a southern Indiana jail cell.
A confinement officer didn’t come into the cell until almost four hours later, when he and others then tried to render life saving efforts to revive Ray.
The Jennings County Prosecutor absolved confinement officers and the sheriff’s department of any criminal acts in the death of Ray, who died from chronic alcoholism and withdraw after being booked into the North Vernon facility on May 24, according to findings released this week.
A release of documents from the prosecutor’s office did suggest, though, that:
- Confinement officers and jail staff may not have formally checked on Ray the way the facility’s protocol when it comes to alcohol withdraw is written
- A jail nurse could have been notified sooner about Ray’s condition while at the jail
- Another medical protocol should have been completed and more medical staff could have been involved in monitoring Ray
Prosecutor Brian J. Belding said there was no recklessness or neglect on the part of the jail staff in the release of his findings and there was no evidence a crime was committed.
Ray had been booked into the jail after her blood-alcohol-content was found to be .25 percent during a roadside test. By the time she got to the jail, it had dropped to .23 percent, according to released documents.
Because Ray’s blood-alcohol-content dipped below the .25 percent mark, jail staff was not required to have her taken to a local hospital as is protocol, documents said. They housed her in a cell by herself and posted a sign outside the cell that said “Alcohol Withdraw.”
According to the facility’s “Alcohol Withdraw Assessment/Watch” protocol, the staff was to monitor Ray every hour for the first four hours and every two hours thereafter. The protocol also requires staff to call a physician at the first sign of tremors or altered level of consciousness.
A sheet placed outside the cell calls for staff to record the times they check on someone under the assessment, the prosecutor wrote in documents.
Ray was checked on three different times, as recorded by staff members, between the hours of 7 p.m. May 24 to 1:30 a.m. May 26, according to the prosecutor’s findings.
During one of these checks, a staff member told her to press the emergency button within her cell if she had any distress, according to released documents.
However, staff did interact with Ray when meals were served, which were not a part of the assessment protocol. One reported that Ray was not eating much, the documents said.
Also, Ray was constantly monitored via video, according to the prosecutor’s release. Investigators watched her last hours to see if they could find any recklessness or neglect or any other crime at the hands of the jail staff.
The jail nurse told investigators that she was not on duty when Ray was booked in May 24 and did not become aware of her condition until reviewing who was in the jail the following day. The nurse told investigators she spoke to the jail staff about the alcohol assessment protocol and that “no one mentioned having concerns about Ray going through alcohol withdraws.”
In an interview with investigators, the facility’s commander said a doctor or nurse practitioner should have been called about the situation after the book-in process since Ray told staff she would likely withdraw from alcohol, according to documents.
“The Jail Commander also stated that a separate medical protocol should have been completed,” investigators wrote in documents.
In an autopsy report, a pathologist wrote that Ray had been drinking since she was 12 years old and had been into rehab programs for alcoholism multiple times throughout the years – she had left one in nearby Henryville days prior to her arrest.
By the time she died, she no longer had alcohol in her system, he wrote.